There’s always this kind of horrible feeling that I get whenever someone tells me that a beloved property is being re-imagined into a modern setting. That sort of shit almost never flies—and the fact that I cannot think of any actual examples of this really shouldn’t mean anything, only that I don’t currently have the best memory in the world (seriously, I know they exist, and not just that Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century cartoon from when I was a kid). I mean, what’s the point of taking something like, I don’t know, Romeo and Juliet and making everyone carry guns instead of swords? Does that really do anything? I mean sure people liked that movie, it was a popular movie, and maybe even won some awards (did it? I don’t know, I never sat through it. I am not a huge fan of plays-as-movies, because there’s always this feeling that you’ve got to add a bunch of other shit going on to make up for the fact that plays are mostly people standing around in one of three or four locations talking to one another, and it all gets in the way of everything else. Did there need to be some kind of shootout at a gas station in Romeo and Juliet? No, not at all, but you gotta blow something up in the movies to keep the kids interested), but being in a modern setting didn’t do anything beyond give people guns and make the final plague house thing make no sense (what, Brother John or whoever doesn’t have a fucking phone in the 20th century? Yeah, whatever, man).
My point is that when Sherlock was announced as Steven Moffat doing a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories I’d always loved as a kid, I was a little skeptical. Of course I was completely wrong, we’ll skip the little narrative bit where I talk about my misgivings and come to love the show etc etc, because what Sherlock does is take the technology of the modern day and give it to Sherlock’s friends and enemies alike. The cops are able to get Sherlock all sorts of information, he doesn’t do the autopsies, and the whole concept of forensics is already established—that being one of the big things which Conan Doyle introduced to the idea of what being a detective is, suddenly part of the draw of Sherlock (he does science to things which the cops aren’t doing!) is gone. Sherlock Holmes goes from being a guy who does all these strange scientific processes to solve crimes to being a guy who has memorized a shitload of information and knows how to use the tools of modern science as well as his own considerable skills of observation.
In fact the main thing of the show (it’s gimmick, if you will) is Holmes’ observing a person and being able to piece together a fairly comprehensive sketch of their character. This is an original Holmes thing too, but the show has to lean on it a little heavier because now it’s not that Sherlock’s the only one dusting for prints, it’s that Sherlock is able to look at the scuffs on the door and quickly deduce the sort of shoe that made it. It’s not that nobody else can do what he does, it’s that nobody else can do it as quickly. He’s a lot like how some modern writers have chosen to portray Batman, except Batman wears a cape and cowl and probably gets into more fights.
This was the season (another all-too-brief three episode season) where Sherlock really came into his own. Last season introduced us to Moriarty, and was more about Watson’s coming to befriend Sherlock and admit that he (Watson) finds the prospect of living a normal life far too boring, thus, he throws in with Holmes and they have ADVENTURES. This season, however, demonstrates that this is the exact same reason Sherlock does what he does. It humanized Sherlock not only by giving us Irene Adler, but by showing Sherlock’s romanticism. The most telling line of course being Mycroft’s comment that before Sherlock settled on ‘detective’ as a line of work, he’d expressed a desire to be a pirate. The end of Scandal in Belgravia only reinforces this, as we’re treated to a rare scene of Sherlock playing the swashbuckling hero (this swashbuckling nature is something the Sherlock Holmes movies have really picked up on (though I haven’t seen the second one yet (I plan to this coming weekend, if it is still in theaters) much to its credit, although if reviews are to be believed the second one leans a little too heavily on the swashbuckling and not enough on the other parts of what Sherlock Holmes does. I’m strangely okay with this, but that’s probably because I’m a sucker for a well-buckled swash). The series then proceeds to rip the rug out from under Holmes in Hounds of Baskerville, because it makes him confront what is, for a while, completely indistinguishable from the supernatural. It shows us a fearful Holmes, chipping away at the myth that the first season created and making him far more human. This makes the endgame of this season all the more compelling, because now there’s a far more humanized Sherlock going in against Moriarty again.
And how about Moriarty, currently sitting pretty as the best villain anyone’s ever come up with? A classic nemesis, the consulting criminal to match the consulting detective. The core of his character has always been established, but moving Moriarty into the modern world has increased the amount of things he can do—his orders all come from texts, or are delivered in chat rooms. His effectiveness at coordinating his heists and other criminal acts is increased by being able to coordinate via telephone. Moriarty’s reach is long in this series, so long that it is all the more impressive when Sherlock is able to outwit him. Plus, this Moriarty is completely batshit insane, in the way that the Master is insane, bored with a normal life just like Sherlock and Watson are, except where those two decided to fight for law and order, Moriarty decided to use his cleverness to take advantage of the rest of the world and live like a king.
The final confrontation between the two this season was incredible, and it helps that Moriarty is played so very, very well by Andrew Scott. His expressions, the way he changes his voice, everything about him is the perfect criminal mastermind. This skinny, unassuming guy who is able to slip in and out of character at the drop of a hat, to go from friendly to murderous back to friendly, and the whole time there’s this manic energy to him which puts you on edge—waiting for him to decide that he’s had enough and maybe it would be easier to just shoot you and be done with it.
I am pretty sure that every single person who reads this already watches Sherlock, so I won’t bother with exhorting you to watch Sherlock because if you don’t you’re already dead to me.
Of course now I’ve got to wait another bloody year for more episodes. Dang ol’ BBC and its bizarre scheduling habits. Guess it’s time to start watching them from the beginning again, eh?
Right, nothing to see, move along, come back next time I have something to ramble about. I very nearly wrote a whole thing about Return of the King and how its release coincided so closely to the end of my high school career that it is just a little too apropos, followed by a passionate defense of Sam as a character (because come on everyone should have a friend as relentlessly loyal and steadfast as Sam, everyone. Sherlock’s got Watson, after all), which would have probably been pretty good, but then I played Cargo instead and watched Sherlock, so you got this.